Tin Angel

Most reading this are probably familiar with the work of Dorothy Parker, the short story writer, poet, theatre critic, New Yorker staffer, and member of the Algonquin Round Table.

One of my favorite of her many famous witticisms: “This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.” I had always assumed that was from one of her theatre reviews, but it was actually a reflection on her 50th birthday. I like raisins myself, but I can see where she was going with that.

But I digress before I even progress. Our subject today is Tin Angel, from the album Tempest.

Tin Angel is a long-ass song, 28 stanzas. It’s a ballad, written in the style of a traditional folk song. It’s a murder ballad, which has a long history in folk music.

The Tin Angel, Jazz Club, San Francisco, California

At a high level, the lyrics are reminiscent of Matty Groves, famously recorded by the great Fairport Convention.

“Henry Lee” is a reference to the traditional song Henry Lee, performed by Dick Justice on the influential Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music, compiled by the idiosyncratic Harry Smith

The phrase “buckskin mare” brings to mind Blackjack Davey, which Dylan has performed numerous times.

From scanning the internet, it seems some are enamored with Tin Angel. Myself, I can’t say I share the same enthusiasm. While I know song lyrics shouldn’t be judged by the same standard as poetry, they shouldn’t be cringe-inducing either. I sprained my cringe-muscle listening to Tin Angel. Predictable story. So much moon/June rhyming. So long. Somnolent tune. The lyrics have the tossed-together quality of a teenager hurriedly typing up something for a creative writing class. I picture Dylan sitting in his room, after a too-long session watching videos on Tic-Tok, hurriedly typing this thing up at 2 am for the next day’s recording session.

Not everything Dylan does is gold. Tin Angel is terrible. With raisins.

Other Dorothy Parker Aphorisms

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.


That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can’t say ‘no’ in any of them.


You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.


If all the young ladies who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, no one would be the least surprised.


Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,

A medley of extemporanea;

And love is a thing that can never go wrong;

And I am Marie of Romania.


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1 thought on “Tin Angel”

  1. Thank you Steve. If there’s any artist I worship, it’s Dylan, but it is not God and that song has always been on my list as among his worst. It’s the only song that album, or perhaps on any of his last ten albums, that I routinely skip.

    I’m glad I’m not alone!

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